Help restore treasured pieces of history

Published 11:33 pm Saturday, June 24, 2017

Old things, especially things that were built in a different era but still functional today, are intriguing. They were built to higher standards than today’s products.

They were, as the old saying goes, “Built to last.” That’s particularly noticeable considering our current disposable society.

The disparity spurred the old adage; “They don’t build them like they used to.”

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Thankfully, that is true in the case of automobiles, which are now faster, yet safer than ever before in their history.

But what’s really interesting is when things that were never meant to be long lasting are kept around for so long that they become valuable because of their age and the memories that they conjure up in the hearts and minds of people.

For the rare people who kept toys from decades ago in their original packaging, their childhood toys can be worth thousands of dollars to vintage toy collectors.

Likewise, automobiles that were stored away and never saw much use through the decades are equally valuable.

Here in Natchez, we’re surrounded by history. Enormously grand mansions and historic locations that hold our area’s history in the stories that unfolded there.

So it’s intriguing to see that even surrounded by such grandeur and craftsmanship, something very simple captured the hearts of generations.

Bits of plywood and paint have become priceless to thousands of Natchez natives and visitors alike.

I doubt that when the late Lanus Hammack first began creating the Christmas displays at the former International Paper Natchez mill, he ever dreamed that 50 years later his work — both his literal pieces as well as recreations of his pieces — would still exist and still delight young and old alike.

But that very thing happened.

Call it a bit of Christmas magic that Mr. Hammack created.

Hundreds and thousands of Natchez area residents share fond memories of packing up in their family’s automobiles and making the drive to the IP site where the Christmas displays were setup for motorists to pass by.

After the mill closed, the displays went dark for a bit, but for several years have been setup by the City of Natchez. My daughter now counts among Christmas “must-dos” a regular visit to the lighted displays.

Last year, I recall a trip with her. It was just the two of us as mom was at home with a newborn.

“What happened to that reindeer, Daddy?” she asked.

“I don’t know baby, I think he must have gotten hurt.”

“What happened to that Elf’s finger?” she asked.

“Looks like someone broke it off.”

“Why would someone break it off?” she quizzed, trying to comprehend vandalism.

“It was probably an accident. That’s why you are not supposed to touch the displays.”

I thought about that conversation the other day after reading an update on local craftsman and volunteer Burnley Cook’s work to restore some of the Christmas displays.

Cook is like so many Natchez adults, who grew up enjoying the IP displays. That’s what led him to volunteer his time and talents to the effort of repairing and restoring the Christmas tradition.

He’s working a grassroots funding effort to help pay for the displays. Search “Restoring the old IP displays” on to find a way to donate.

I made a donation last week, and I hope others will too. I can barely draw a stick man, or I’d volunteer to help paint, but perhaps others out there with happy memories of the display and an interest in sharing the magic of Christmas can help.

Christmas is only six months away, which is a bit baffling. Seems like just a month or so ago, a reindeer’s legs were broken and an elf had lost his finger on the bluff.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or